| Newport Life magazine
Newport County’s real estate agents were inundated with phone calls after the quarantine lifted last June. Knee-jerk cancellations from COVID-weary renters, coupled with inquiries from work-from-home city slickers fleeing metro areas, forced agents to quickly pivot into high gear.
As a result, the Newport County rental market soared. The Multiple Listing Service recorded 626 leases here in 2020, versus just 399 in 2019. Of those, 75 were above $5,000 per month, versus 37 above that common summer price range in 2019.
“This won’t stop people from coming. They will have more confidence in 2021,” says Tina Wiley of Gustave White Sotheby’s International Realty. “We were already seeing them look for next summer in December.”
With last year’s uncertainty behind us, the heightened activity comes at a time when inventory is already depleted. Rental and sale properties are historically tight in this market, and this insurgent demand makes it increasingly restrictive.
Stacie Mills of Vanderbilt International Properties says the summer rental market is extremely tight for multiple reasons. Many homes that are typically rented seasonally were rented for the entire year to those fleeing the city, or else the owners decided to remain in them rather than vacate for the summer.
“I have called on rentals that were listed for summer, only to find out the owners will be in residence through August, or will not commit to the rental until they have a better feel of what summer 2021 looks like for them,” Mills says. “Rental properties that have traditionally been available also were sold, given the demand. Owners who may have been sitting on a property as a rental saw the opportunity to capitalize on their investment. So inventory is low.”
A surprisingly strong winter rental market was buoyed by fledgling remote workers and steady military tenants, which encouraged landlords to increase prices. Normally, fewer than half of landlords will raise rents in a given year; that ratio was closer to 100 percent in 2020.
“Newport is resilient, we’ll keep moving on. If restaurants and shops can stay afloat this winter and rebound for next summer, those people that came in 2020 will return,” Wiley says. “They were so happy to come, and everyone has a great time here.”
Broker/owner Matt Hadfield of Hogan Associates Real Estate says he initially thought the rental market would collapse. “But it never did, and prices did go up,” he says. “Rental markets will be very competitive on all fronts. My best advice is to start now if someone wants something for the season.” —Annie Sherman